The U.S. government Friday announced that effective Sunday, Sept. 20, it is banning new downloads of the widely used Chinese-made apps TikTok and WeChat. Citing national security concerns, the Commerce Department also said in a statement that a complete ban on the use of TikTok in the United States will go into effect Nov. 12 unless privacy safeguards are put into place.
The Commerce Department statement said the ban is intended “to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations.” It did not, however, indicate exactly what national values or rules-based norms would be protected.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) immediately announced its opposition to the move.
Selectively banning entire platforms like TikTok and WeChat violates the First Amendment and does little to protect our personal data from abuse. https://t.co/TKR4ZrGH24
— ACLU (@ACLU) September 18, 2020
“The order also harms the privacy and security of millions of existing TikTok and WeChat users in the United States by blocking software updates, which can fix vulnerabilities and make the apps more secure,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement. “In implementing President Trump’s abuse of emergency powers, Secretary Ross is undermining our rights and our security. To truly address privacy concerns raised by social media platforms, Congress should enact comprehensive surveillance reform and strong consumer data privacy legislation.”
When Trump first announced his planned TikTok ban in August he indicated that Microsoft could be a likely buyer of the app’s U.S. operations. On Monday software giant Oracle announced that it had reached a deal with TikTok, although the exact terms haven’t been announced. That proposal is being reviewed by the Treasury Department and Trump to determine if it satisfies the administration’s security concerns.
It’s estimated that 100 million people in the U.S. use the apps to create and post videos, chat, pay bills, order food, book travel, read news and shop online. It’s also a big conduit for Chinese speakers in the United States to communicate with relatives and friends in China. Worldwide, TikTok and WeChat have billions of users.
In addition to banning new downloads of the apps, after 11:59 p.m. Sunday current users will no longer be able to receive software updates or security patches. Money transfers and mobile payments also will be cut off.
Perhaps its most famous user is comedian Sarah Cooper, whose videos mimicking Donald Trump have gone viral. Some have suggested that Cooper’s videos are the Trump administration’s real motive for trying to shut down TikTok in the U.S.